Building resources to rethink the ethical framework of professional practice

The repeated scandals and continuing financial malfeasance, such as the case of Carillion, Volkswagen, and famous Enron and WorldCom, have implicated accounting professionals and challenged their attributed role as ‘gatekeepers’ and the trustworthiness that legitimates their professional status. In order to mitigate this, corporate codes of conduct have proliferated among firms and university accounting programmes have adopted ethics courses.

Nevertheless, the focus on regulation and compliance to codes of conduct have shown no clear implication on the ethical behaviour of professionals. Questions about the effectiveness of ethical codes have stirred ongoing debates among organizational researchers as well as the Journal of Business Ethics. Two recent reviews on the relationship between codes of conduct and ethical decision-making have yielded inconclusive results, which summatively states that codes of ethics can help one raise moral awareness in firms (Weaver and Trevino 1999), they do not guarantee impact on professional’s moral judgment. One meta-analysis further points out that even ethics education in business schools does not necessarily result in internalized ethical values and does not guarantee ethical behaviour (Waples et al., 2009).

It is on the basis of these ethical failures and the decline of societal trust in professions, that my ongoing academic research attends to the case study of accounting practice to consider two questions that make visible the complex issue of ethics:

1) What factors are recognised to have an impact on the ethical competence in the practice of accountancy?

2) How is professionalism currently understood in relation to ethics?

3) How could we rethink and inform practices in order to allow ethical responsiveness?


I here aim to bring attention to key issues in the field and to build the resources that could help us rethink the nature of professional practice and professional formation in relation to ethics.